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If you like Wynton Marsalis's story, you might also like:
Johnny Cash,
Vince Gill,
Lauryn Hill,
B.B. King,
Quincy Jones,
Johnny Mathis,
Jessye Norman,
Lloyd Richards,
Sonny Rollins,
Esperanza Spalding
and Bernie Taupin

recommended reading: The Sound and the Fury

Wynton Marsalis also appears in the video:
The Democratic Process

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Wynton Marsalis in the Achievement Curriculum section:
A Passion For Music
Pursuing a Career in Music

Related Links:
Wynton Marsalis Music On Jango
Wynton Marsalis

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Pulitzer Prize for Music

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  Wynton Marsalis

Do you usually have a melody in your head? Are you usually thinking about music?

Wynton Marsalis Interview Photo
Wynton Marsalis: Sometimes I'm thinking about music but it's not formulated like a tune. It will just be something general that goes on in my mind all the time. It's not organized in the form of melodies, it's just the whole type of poetic motion of music. Music has a certain type of ebb and flow, regardless of the tempo. Whenever I see myself in a situation where I meet a new person, I wonder what they would sound like in music. Or something that is ironic or funny. Or if you go to the zoo, you look at animals, they all have a musical type. Or colors, you know. So much stuff can be related to music.

What kinds of things inspire music in you?

Wynton Marsalis: Anything. For me, it can be the type of shoes somebody has on, or maybe it's the way you do this with your mustache. You know, it's like a question. Maybe it's like a phrase that was doodoodoo diiiing. boomp boomp boomp. It can be anything. Type of clothing people wear, earrings, the way a woman will move, you know she might touch her lips a certain way, or move her eyes a certain way. Or look at you a certain way. Or paintings. Like sometimes I go to the Museum of Modern Art, or I get books of paintings from Picasso, Titian, Goya, it doesn't make any difference what the period is. Or I am reading a book. Like one time I was reading the Iliad, and I thought boy you could make some great music out of this. Tunes for each character. It's just anything.

What are you looking forward to? What do you hope to achieve? You are still very young.

Wynton Marsalis: I know.

I want to really become a better composer. I want to learn how to really write jazz music, and just capture a portion of what I really see around me because now I function at like 20 percent of my capability, because I don't have the technique to write down what I hear and see and feel. I don't have the technical. I can't do it. So, I have to work on that because I can really conceive of writing songs about animals, a whole series of songs just on animals. A whole series of songs based on Japanese music. Really, truly dealing with their music, not just ting-tong ting-ting bong. You know, something corny. I mean really, from a conceptual standpoint and, also just dealing with jazz music. Some pretty music, something people can like, but that will also be good. Try to bring dance back into the music. Try to deal with film and music. Try to write opera, write ballets. There's a lot I want to do. I'm sure I won't do it all. But, if I could just get the technique to do it, then I think I would be in a much better position.

[ Key to Success ] Vision

A lot of the kids who see this interview are going to feel some of the same injustices you have felt. Some are going to feel the same angers you have. How did you overcome it? How did you come from where you started to where you are?

The first thing is, I tell the kids all the time who are angry, you should never lose your anger. You should stay mad. But you have to always realize that everything is a balance. And that your perspective is one perspective in the world. And it's a needed perspective, but it's one perspective. That's all. There are other perspectives that are equally as valid, they exist, and they are fueled by something too. So what you do is, figure out what your role is, and fulfill that role as successfully as you can. And leave room for somebody else to come after you to fulfill that role. That's what a tradition does. That's how tradition is established.

But in terms of anger, you can't let the anger burn you up. You want to be mad, you don't want to lose it. Because when you lose the anger, you lose your force. But you don't want the anger to supplant the greatest force, which is love, and that's a benevolent force. That's the force where, instead of you concentrating on what somebody is not doing, you then are concentrating on what you can do to make the situation better. The type of anger that is constructive for artistic purposes, is based on the perception of injustice. So, you are supposed to be angry because you feel that there is a wrong being perpetrated. That means that your identification with what the community could be is so strong that you feel a need to correct that. But you can't get caught up in the anger against the people who are perpetrating what you perceive to be wrong. You have to be more concerned with the constructive atmosphere that you create by constructing something to combat that which is wrong. And that thing always comes out of a feeling of love, a desire to elevate those that you're around, and to make the world that you live in a better place to live in, according to you.

You realize that it's still just your perspective. When you start thinking that your way of thinking of stuff is the world thinking of it, then you fall into a type of narcissism that leads to real decline. Because then you shut off the possibility that you might be wrong, and you never really know if what you are thinking is not correct. But you have to go in the direction. Because if you are an artist, or anything you're doing, you have to move in a direction. Don't be anxious. You can't let anger consume you. Because it can do that. Any emotion can do that. The only emotion you want to consume you is love. And I don't mean that lost love, where you are going to be depending on someone, I'm talking about the constructive love, the love of action -- that makes you want to assist other lives. Not assist them in the way you think they need to be assisted. Not that religious love where you want to recruit somebody to be in your religion, but the real love, where you try to recognize what somebody actually wants in their life, or what they need, and try to help them fulfill that.

You know, that anger -- I tell the kids, don't lose their anger. You gotta be mad. But don't think you're the only one that's mad. Or because you're mad, you've done something. Achievement is the construction of something. Like with students sometimes, they get so caught up in philosophical discourse, that they don't realize that in art the artifact is what's important. "Oh, really, you feel that way? Okay, where is your novel? Where is your film, are we going to see that now? Oh, where are your compositions?" I'm all for talking, but that's what I tell them.

Wynton, it has been a privilege.

Wynton Marsalis: Thank you. My pleasure.

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This page last revised on Mar 12, 2008 12:38 EST
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